Lysacek matches Weir after free skate, takes U.S. title on tiebreak
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- They were minor things, really. A change of edge here, a more difficult setup to a jump there.
When the skaters are as equally good as Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, though, those little details determine who gets the gold and who has to settle for silver.
Stephen Carriere, last year's world junior champion, was third with 228.06 points.
"That's awesome, actually, to have not one person but two people [that close] in the same event,'' Lysacek said. "You put any top skater in the world in that competition today, and they would have had tough time beating either one of us. I'm happy to be part of such a strong field and proud as well.''
Weir has every reason to be proud, too. His performance at last year's nationals was such a disappointment -- he dropped to third with a poor free skate -- that he uprooted his entire life. He switched coaches and cities, now training in New Jersey with Galina Zmievskaya, who coached Olympic gold medalists Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul.
"I'm very happy with my performance and happy that I could show the work that I've put in,'' he said. "The scoring, first, second place -- it really doesn't matter. I'm just happy with the way I skated.''
And just wait until next year. Odds are, these two will be at it again.
"If you were scripting this whole deal, you probably couldn't have done any better job than this,'' Lysacek said.
Lysacek and Weir's back-and-forth is one of the best things going in skating. Fans may love figure skating's prettiness, but nothing gets more attention than a good, old-fashioned rivalry.
NBC, in its first year broadcasting the national championships, sure did its part to hype it up. But Lysacek and Weir say the rivalry stops at the boards. They may not be friends, but they're not enemies, either.
"No, no, definitely not,'' Weir said. "He's just my biggest competitor.''
Added Lysacek, "I think he's a great skater. He has pushed me and I'd like to think I've pushed him. I'm not going to say anything bad about him. I admire him.''
Beating him, too, these days.
Weir won the U.S. title from 2004-06, while Lysacek was winning a pair of bronze medals at the world championships. But Lysacek has had the edge at home recently, now winning the last two U.S. titles.
"My reaction this year is so much different than last year,'' Lysacek said. "Last year, I was so excited. I'd climbed on top of the mountain I'd been working toward for so long. This year I feel more relief. I worked so hard, went through so much and I'm sad to say, I'm a little bit happy it's over.''
The weight of the expectations was evident. Skating to "Tosca,'' he didn't have his usual sharpness or precision, and until his last two sections of footwork, his free skate lacked his usual emotion.
He landed his quadruple toe loop jump on two feet, and needed to do a turn before the triple toe that's supposed to be a combination. He wasn't very secure on the landings of either of his triple axels, too, though he held on to both of them.
"I wasn't terribly happy with the quad tonight,'' coach Frank Carroll said. "It is a difficult thing to do under pressure. But if you don't start doing it now, what are you going to do the last year [before the Olympics]?''
Lysacek did end his program strong. Four of his elements -- two jump combinations and a triple lutz and double axel -- came after the halfway mark, which earn bonus points. His straight-line footwork is filled with intricate steps and kicks and fast hops and turns, and it always gets a nice reaction from the crowd. Sunday was no different.
Fans were cheering and clapping before his music even finished, and Lysacek pumped his fist in satisfaction.
"I think I performed with every ounce of energy I had inside of me, so that I'm proud of,'' Lysacek said. "We're trying such difficult stuff and, for me, I've worked so hard this year to have difficult entrances and exits into jumps that they're rarely perfect.
"That's the name of the game now, fighting for every single point. It's actually a good thing the sport is about, and it's not just recital where you show up and do it. You go out and fight.''
But because he hadn't been perfect, he'd left room for Weir. Only 1.35 points separated the two after the short program, so whoever won Sunday's free skate would be the champion.
The two were evenly matched in jumps -- both two-footed their quads and did seven triples. But Weir also landed his triple flip on two feet, and had simpler entrances to his jumps.
Weir also didn't skate with his usual intensity. When he's on, he is one of the most majestic skaters in the world, with a natural gift for wringing every ounce of emotion out of a program.
But he seemed to be more about business in both his short and long programs, skating as if he was crossing one thing after another off a mental checklist. He still had his usual elegance, but not his fire.
His shoulders shook with sobs when he finished, and he briefly dropped to one knee. A few minutes later, he'd dropped to second.
"I was as close as possible to getting [the title] back again. I'm proud of that,'' Weir said. "You want to say, 'Yeah, it's a competition and you go for first or second place,' but this is my life. I live my life on an ice rink.
"For me at times first and second place isn't so important. If I'm happy with my performance, that's it.''
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press